Tuesday, July 25, 2017

TRT 100: Sometimes Things Just Gotta Play Hard

In one of my favorite episodes of The Wire, Detective Kima Greggs refuses to fudge the identification of one of the gang members who everyone knows was one of the shooters who shot and almost killed her in a drug bust gone bad. Bunk tries to tell her that things will play a whole lot easier in court with an ID, but Greggs refuses by simply saying, “Sometimes things just gotta play hard.”

I’ve always loved that line because it was just plain good writing. It was exactly what a cop like her would say in that situation. She believed in doing things the right way. All the time. No matter the outcome. I identify with that. And that line was the refrain that got me through a tough night at TRT 100. Well, that and a whole lotta help from my family and friends. It’s a good story (if you’re into 100 mile race reports), so grab venti cup of coffee and settle in.

I didn’t do a blog after Eastern Divide and before TRT because we were in the thick of moving and I was teaching summer school. Couple all that with my focus on being a new dad, and the blog just had to give. TRT, though, it’s worth the time. I just put PT to bed, so I should (I hope) have a little time to get all this down.

Chris, Sean, and I set off for Reno by way of Charlotte on the Wednesday night before race day. With a little airport sprinting (along with Andy) we made our connection in Salt Lake and arrived in Reno in time to hook up with Brett, Michele, Jordy, Kristin, Josh Starner, Josh Hamilton, and Matt. Thursday and Friday were dedicated to race prep. We started with a little start line recon Friday morning:

Rolling Deep: Photo Andy

Saturday morning at 3:45 we set out for the start line.

The gun went off at 5, and Brett, Jordy, Josh, Torrie, and I set off on the first of two 50 mile loops. We settled into an easy pace and chatted happily for the first few miles. After a bit, Jordy was warmed up. He said his goodbye for the day and took off to join the front of the pack. The rest of us kept cruising knowing that, for us, this was a race that would reward patience.

The first 30 miles were pretty uneventful. Brett and I stuck together through Hobart, Tunnel 1 and the Red House loop. We came into the first crew spot at Diamond Peak  (mile 30) together.

Seeing PT, Ginger, and Lois there was really the highlight of the first 50 miles for me. I wasn’t sure if they’d be there, and my sprit soared when I saw them.

Photo array credit: Pawel

The crew got me in and out and outfitted with an ice bandana. (Thanks, Kirby. Those things were crucial for keeping cool.) I was in and out a little slower than my normal AS routine, but I decided pretty early in this race to not worry about that. There was so much sand and grit on the course that I felt like it was worth it to give up time in aid stations to take care of my feet so that I could avoid blisters later.

I took off from Diamond Peak to catch up with Brett, and was happy to hook back up with him before too long. 

Brett and I mostly ran together on and off for the first 50 miles getting separated here and there. Sharing the first lap with Brett was a huge help. Time in the mountains with him is something I treasure. We had a blast chewing up the miles together and keeping each other happy.   

We got split up somewhere after Hobart 2 (I stopped to avail myself of the facilities). The climb up to the Boy Scouts at Snow Valley was a bit of a valley (see what I did there, Brett?) for me on lap 1. I got behind on calories and didn’t realize it until I found myself getting irrationally angry at the signs leading into the aid station. The Boy Scouts were awesome, and they stuffed me full of food and got me moving again for the 7 mile descent (mostly) to the Stonehenge 50 mile aid station.

 When I got there,  I got a little more love from PT and Ginger to stoke the stoke. 

Ginger, PT, and Lois, were there with the Blacksburg Crew (Josh S, Kristen, Michele) and my awesome race team (Chris and Sean) to get me turned around and back out on the second lap. I told them we could take it easy and not rush. I came into mile 50 a touch over 12 hours. I knew a negative split was not going to happen, so sub 24 was no longer a realistic time goal. The goal was to take care of my feet, get some clean clothes, and make sure I was chilled out going into the second lap. Chris and I got all geared up and started out on lap 2. I needed to walk for a while to let the food I had crammed in settle, and Chris was cool with that. I promised him that we would not repeat Grindstone and that we’d run plenty tonight. We ran off and on for a bit.

Coming into Hobart 3, I realized we might not make Tunnel 4 before sunset. No worries, I had a headlamp in my pack (I think). That was important because we’d hooked up with an awesome guy named Shannon from Vegas (by way of Hawaii) who was in need of a headlamp. He asked if he could just hang with us until Tunnel so he wouldn’t be out in the dark alone. I told him I could do him one better: I could give him a headlamp at Hobart that he could just use, so he wouldn’t have to wait on us. I was feeling a little beat up and knew I was going to need to mostly hike for an hour or so. In the end, I ended up running the last two miles to Tunnel sans headlamp.  I couldn’t find it in my pack easily and didn’t want to waste time looking for it, so I just used my Marine Issue Night Vision and jogged it into Tunnel without a light. Shannon tried to give me mine back, but I couldn’t take it. It just felt wrong. It was not a big deal anyway. Shannon ended up being happy to have the company and he hitched himself to our train for the rest of the race. It was great having the extra company.

As we hit Tunnel for the fourth time and set out on the Red House loop for the second time (mile 62ish), things stopped being fun and games. Red House Loop 2 was the beginning of a rather dark period of the race for me. Not literally, I had a baller Petzl Nao headlamp in my drop bag there. I just fell down into the bad part of the nothing box for a few hours.

 I couldn’t get into a running rhythm for very long. My HR kept spiking and I just felt weak. That can spiral out of control, and I fought it throughout the loop. I ate a pile of bacon wrapped tater tots at Red House (thank you amazing Red House Aid Station people!) and tried to get the train going again as we left Tunnel for the 5th time (1 more to go). We met up with Brett and the Bon Jovi of Math Education- Andy (who ran his first ultra pacing Brett!!!!), and Josh Hamilton. We left in a train heading up the mountain towards Bull Wheel. I just couldn’t keep the rhythm and started a bad spiral for about an hour. I had to unhitch from the train and let Josh and Brett go off into the night.

Chris and Shannon cruised along with me mostly in silence for quite a while. Somewhere on the climb to Bull Wheel is where Detective Greggs came into the picture. 

I’m not ashamed to say I considered bagging it on that climb. I was pushing calories as much as I could, but I was just so sleepy. I just wanted to lie down on a rock and sleep. So BADLY. Double fisting caffeinated gels only made my stomach feel bad. I did it anyway. It didn’t help. Sleep beckoned me like the sirens calling to Odysseus. Luckily, Chris had lashed me to the masthead and was driving us forward.

For a couple of miles, Chris, Shannon, and I climbed in silence. I considered how I might get out of the 8-mile descent to Diamond Peak and the 2 mile brutal climb out of the mile 80 aid station. I’ll admit to considering just turning the wrong way after Bull Wheel and ignoring the protest I knew would come from Chris if I headed down to Diamond Peak off course. I knew he wouldn’t LET me quit. I’d have to force it. I considered that for a few minutes. And then, I thought about some things things:
  •  I. Do. Not. Quit.    Ever. 
  •  I am here to set an example for my son. Your word is your bond. Do what you say you are going to do. That’s what you have in life, so never give it up.
  •  My mom. She’s going through chemo right now, and I’m carrying the little Smurf mountain climber in my pack that she gave me. How am I going to quit at my hobby when she’s acting like chemo is no big deal? Not an option.
  • Sean. He flew all the way out here. How could I deprive him of the chance to see the these mountains? My friend Star stuck it out at WSER last year in far worse circumstances so I could see the course. Gotta live up to that.
  • Detective Greggs. Good Ol’ Detective Greggs. Sometimes things just gotta play hard. Well, TRT let’s dance. So we did.

I sucked it up and pounded two more caffeinated Chia gels and did my best to run it back into Diamond Peak—using the term run very loosely. Chris, Shannon, and I rolled into Diamond creek a couple of hours past the time I hoped to be there. But I honestly didn’t care about the clock. I had one goal left: Play this thing out-- hard.

My main goal going into the race was to run the last 7 miles. Sure, I had other goals (sub 24; sub 30; finish no matter what). But, I have had trouble closing 100s. I have a history of walking in the last 20 miles and not really pushing myself. I needed to prove to myself that I can close hard, and I went into TRT with that being my #1 goal. I felt like this was a chance to re-define myself as a 100 miler. I was damn sure not going to let a few hours of feeling sorry for myself get in the way of that. I didn’t. And Sean wouldn’t have let me anyway.

I picked up Sean (or rather Shannon and I picked up Sean) for the second trip up the 2 miles of HOLY HELL that is the climb out of Diamond Peak. It went on forever. (Kudos to the RD for putting that sandy bastard of a climb at mile 80). Brett and Michele slipped away from us on the climb- not be seen again until the finish. Josh Hamilton was long gone. He crushed it after the 100K point and never looked back (Well done, brother).

I spent the time from Diamond Peak to Hobart mentally preparing myself to get down to business once we started the climb to Snow Valley. I kept making myself eat so I wouldn’t hate on the Boy Scouts and their signs on the climb. Sean did a great job as a pacer on this leg.

For 13 miles he chatted with Shannon and me, told jokes, kept it light, and never let us give up on ourselves. Once we went through the Snow Valley Aid Station, Sean cajoled me into running. He made me keep my promise to myself.

We left Snow Valley at like 27 hours and 45 minutes. We had just a little over 7 miles to go. I really wanted to run hard and try to get in under 29 hours. I didn’t bother doing math (Don’t tell me the odds. Ever. I’m like Han Solo that way, and Pawel is always right when it comes to odds anyway). I ran hard. I blew out my quads and dug deeper than I’ve ever dug to close out a 100. Instead of doing the “Who cares? Walk it in” thing this time, I cared. I kept Detective Greggs, PT, Ginger (and all the sacrifices she made to help me train and be at this race), my mom, and the promises I made to myself at the front of my mind and kept eating gels.

Sean probably had a good time laughing at me grunting in pain as I tried to power my way down the hills and up the little rollers. He was probably running without breathing hard, but I ran with the intent of dropping him. 

I knew I couldn’t, but I’m never one to let reality get in the way of effort. 

We passed a few people and I felt the surge of happy that comes from that kind of thing late in a race (FEED ME, as Sam Evans would say).  

Sean and rolled into the finish line at 29 hours and 14 minutes.

The prize: Seeing my family smiling at the finish; Seeing my friends basking in their accomplishments (and the pain that comes with them) at the finish; And that Buckle. That sweet ass BUCKLE.

So to wrap up this long report (I told you get a Venti), I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to my amazing wife who made it possible for our family to be together out here. Thanks for making the trip and helping Ginger,  Lois (mother-in-law of the year).

 I also need to thank Chris and Sean for getting me through.  I owe you guys BIG TIME and look forward to returning the favor.

Brett, thanks for sharing the miles with me. Looking forward to many more.

Jordy, seeing you out on the trail in the night was a big lift. You always inspire me, my friend.

Josh Hamilton- way to crush it! Thanks for another awesome adventure. Grindstone is going to be a party.

Kristen, Michele, Josh Starner, and Andy: Thanks for the love and support.

Mom, thanks for the inspiration. Keep fighting. We need you around for a long time.

George (the RD) and all the amazing volunteers at TRT 100: You put together an awesome race.

Here’s a link to the Strava data. Strava took some liberties with the last 7 miles so the splits are not accurate.

Shoes: Hoka Speedgoat 2. I recommend.

Bonus: Ginger, Lois, and PT headed off to Yosemite for a week of exploring.

We finally made it home on Sunday with a little help from our friends. You guys rock! 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Boston 2017: Aim Small, Miss Small/ Aim Big, Hit Big (Sometimes)

Anyone who has studied and/or practiced the art of long range shooting (as I have in a previous life) knows the old saw: Aim Small, Miss Small. While this is great guidance for hitting a man-sized target at 1000 yards, it’s not an approach that suits me as a runner.

For me, running long distances is about finding things out. It’s about exploration. It’s about testing the limits. Mostly, it’s a chance—In our safe, comfortable, insulated life—to stare into the abyss. Running offers the chance to grow. To strive, to seek, and to not yield even in the face of struggle.

With that approach to my chosen hobby, I often gleefully toe the line at races with goals that are improbable. Sure, I always set more reasonable sub goals to keep me pushing when the big dream has been swallowed by a cruel reality (see my Grindstone race report here. But, I’m not interested in having things that are easily attained. I never have been.

I share this idea as an introduction to my race report from the 2017 (121st) Boston Marathon. In November 2015, I ran the Richmond Marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston. As someone whose preference is 100 milers and not marathons, I thought it would be cool to run a “fast” (for me) marathon. Qualifying for Boston would represent that. So, I ran Richmond and snagged a 3:09 (and change) that put me well under the 3:15 qualifying standard for my age group.

Fast forward a year and a half. Add in the greatest addition to the world I can imagine (Paul Thomas born November 10, 2016—the USMC Birthday, btw), and this is where the idea of Aiming Big to maybe hit Big comes into the picture for Boston.

I knew that I wanted to spend the bulk of my time after Paul was born learning how to be a good dad and a good partner for Ginger in this thing called parenthood. That meant making a commitment to the home life first and running goals second.

I adjusted my running and training to reflect that priority. Instead of doing speedwork, going for a regular run before or after work, and hitting the track once a week, I shouldered a backpack and ran to work and back a few days a week. When PT was big enough, I knocked out my morning miles with him in the stroller on the other days.

The strategy was to get in the miles where I could without sacrificing time at home.

Ginger was an awesome partner and made it possible for me to do my long runs in the mountains on the weekends, so I could still feel good about building my base for Tahoe Rim Trail 100 this summer. I managed to get in a little tempo (with the pack or the stroller) here and there, but mostly I knew I’d be running Boston on some quality volume and HEART. I had, after all, run over 700 miles for the year and paced 43 miles at Umstead a few weeks ago (Thanks for letting me run with you Chris and Star).

In the face of the facts, which I did consider based on the sage advice of Wendell Berry and Zach Miller (http://www.irunfar.com/2016/08/though-you-have-considered-the-facts.html) I decided to follow my pattern of setting a big goal that would give me a chance to explore. The facts told me that I probably wasn’t in the kind of shape you need to be in for big marathon goals. My friend Pawel also made I was aware of this fact. He is right; running 6:50s for 26 miles DOES require a certain amount of turnover. But…

Facts should not limit us. They should inform us.

I considered all the facts as Wendell Berry has suggested, and then I joyfully set about Aiming Big in the hopes of hitting big. One never knows when the stars will align and hard work and heart will give you a gift. Considering the facts helped me formulate reasonable sub-goals and approach all the goals with joy.

So, I hopped a plane to Boston aiming for a sub 3 hour marathon.  Yes. I know. Sub 3 is a BIG goal. Yes. I also know that it was an unlikely goal. But this is where the joy of running is for me. I KNEW I could easily run a 3:25 marathon, which is the qualifying standard for me for next year. I knew I could go and just have fun cruising. But I wanted to explore. So I did.

I am, however, not foolish. I was not toeing the line without having fully considered all the facts and building sub-goals that were informed by them. So, I made a reasonable plan:

Run the first 5K at a pace neither too slow to allow a sub 3 finish or so fast it would cause me to blow up before the halfway point. After that, I planned to progressively ramp it up if it was going to be my day.

It wasn’t. I just didn’t have the turnover. That was apparent by the 10K point. Chris, my partner in this edition of Chasing Windmills, was feeling just the same. He had, in fact, just finished his first 100 miler two weeks earlier. We talked a little, pushed ourselves, and set about the work of chasing our sub-goals.

We’d hoped to run together the whole day and finish sub 3. Instead, we stayed together until our paces were no longer simpatico, and I took off at the halfway point and tried to just run splits that were as even as possible. That alone was a big goal considering my training.

At the half, I was at 1:36. I was planning to negative split as I had done at Richmond, but the facts told me that a negative split that would result in a sub 3 finish was a fool’s errand. I settled into a pace that would keep 3:08 (a PR) within reach. Each time I tried to pick up that pace, the heat from the sun made it seem like I was running faster than I was. Mile 16 was 6:57 and it felt like 6:30.

At mile 17, I started feeling low on energy, so I double fisted a couple of gels Jordan Chang style to ensure I wouldn’t bonk. A PR was out the window at this point, but running strong to the finish wasn’t.

 At mile 19, you roll into the “hills” that Boston has to offer. Heartbreak Hill proved to be much ado about nothing and I cruised up it thinking: This would, indeed, suck at a 6:50 pace, but it’s really no big deal in the 7:30s. Heartbreak hill came and went.

Rolling into Brookline at mile 22.5 was a big motivator. Chris’ family and Julia were lined up outside of the house where we were staying (Thanks for having me Frank and Megan). It was a big lift to have them cheering us on. Chris’ dad was there too. I never want to disappoint a fellow Marine, so I made sure to cruise through trying to make it look easy. Whether I did or not is up for debate. I doubt I did.

Photo: Frank Curran

I was able to pick up the pace a bit here. I was still really hoping to at least go sub 3:10 at this point. I wanted to just blister that last 6K or so. I figured: here’s a chance to explore—go hard in the last 5K of a marathon to sneak in under 3:10. Again, each time I tried to pick it up, my body responded with a laugh. So, just kept it steady and soaked in the scene.  

I did push (but not blister) the final 5K trying to get in under 3:15. It wasn’t easy mind you- 7:20s are not easy for me that far into a race under most circumstances, and they were not easy here. I laid down a 6:54 mile 26, but 3:15 wasn’t to be either.

The tale of the clock: 3:16:36

·      I finished 3466 (out of 29,000 or so runners), which is pretty cool since my seed was 7267. I’m proud to say I literally passed thousands of people.

·      My second fastest marathon. Link to the Strava data

The reality: I didn’t hit any of the big goals I was really aiming for—at least not on the clock.

But, my biggest goal was to explore. And that one I hit. I saw what was possible on the training I had put in so far this year. What was possible was NOT a sub 3 marathon.

I did, however, have a lot of fun. I finished Boston and chased another windmill with Chris. I would have loved to have caught that sub 3 windmill, but I have zero regrets.

My main goal this year is to learn to be a good dad and a good partner. I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with PT and Ginger for any running goal. Life is about balance, and I’m learning how to strike a good balance between home and hobby.

So, my final thoughts after The Boston Exploration:
  • Aim Big, Hit Big. Don’t be satisfied with things you can easily obtain.
  • Set big goals. Say them out loud, so you’ll be accountable for them. And enjoy them.
  • Do not be afraid of “failure” because failure takes on many forms. The only form of failure I’m afraid of is failing to grow by exploring. 
I owe some folks some big Thank Yous:
  • Ginger, thank you for supporting me as I continue to chase windmills and learn how to do so as a new dad. I love you. 

  • Chris, thank you for always being up for staring into the abyss with me. Looking forward to TRT this summer.

  • Frank and Megan, thank you for the hospitality. I enjoyed meeting you both.

  • Jordy, thank you for helping out at the house while I was gone. 

  • Amy, thanks for being there for Ginger and PT while I was off adventuring. 

  • Jordy, Brett, Sean, Andy, Pawel, the boys from Always Brothers, Kirby, Steven, all the folks at Runabout Sports, and the rest of the BBurg running crew, thanks for the encouragement and support.  
·      For Andy: The wall is socially constructed. I refuse to participate in that construction.
·      For Pawel: You were right. Again.
·      Mom: I ran this one for you. Thanks for giving me strength.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

One Foot in Front of the Other: Time for a New Chapter

Last winter Ginger and I found out that she was pregnant. I was in the middle of training for Umstead 100. This wasn't a surprise. We'd had all the normal talks about starting a family. But, we were lucky. Things happened quickly. I suspected they would. Not out of any kind of bravado or whatever. I just had that feeling. I figured: Start "trying" now and things will happen at a good time (not during summer 100 season ha ha). And I was right. Ginger ended up pacing me at Umstead a few weeks pregnant. We couldn't tell anyone yet, so it was really interesting. Brett and I ran the first 50 of Umstead together. And, I was DYING to tell him. Heck, we ran together for 8ish hours. At some point, you run low on topics. And I had a great one. That had to stay secret. Anyway it was really cool. Ginger had an awesome pregnancy. Life was grand. 9 months flew by. The due date of November 23rd starting coming like a freight train. We had gotten as ready as we could logistically (crib, car seats, clothes, diapers, etc--) thanks to the incredible generosity of our  amazing family and friends  We are so grateful!! Being logistically ready and ready to be responsible for a life that had been purely theoretical (I wasn't actually growing a baby inside me-- Ginger was) for 9 months are different things though.

As the calendar clicked to November, time started feeling like it was moving faster. Then, on November 8, things kicked into hyperdive. The boy was going to show up early. And show up early he did. The birth was the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of. I stand in complete awe of Ginger. I'll never understand how she was able to pull that off. Her birth story is an amazing one. Ask her about it sometime. I'm sure she'd by happy to share it with you.

In the end Paul Thomas Stewart joined us on November 10, 2016 as an unexpected, but most welcome, present for the Marine Corps Birthday. He is, by far, the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

Photo Credit Laura Swift

So, a New Chapter Begins. 

How is it possible that Ginger has more energy than me at this point? 

I'm a dad now. I've loved being a lot things in my life. Lacrosse player. Kayaker. Kayak Guide. Friend. Brother. Son. Teacher. Student. Runner. Marine. Husband. Now, we add a new title: Father!

I have to say that it is the title I am most excited to have. Now, I just have to figure out how to live up to it. Like anything I do, I want to be the very best (insert whatever it is) I can possibly be. The stakes have never been higher. As a Marine, I was responsible for myself and others. But, now I'm responsible for a life that Ginger and I created who is totally dependent upon us. That is heavy. It is also amazing.

As I tear into this new chapter, I will carry a lot of the lessons the other titles have taught me. Parents taught me compassion, integrity, empathy, hard work, and too many other things to name. Friends taught me loyalty and the importance of not missing a chance to let them know they're valued. Teaching taught me to think about what others need in new ways. Kayaking taught me to love exploring. The Marine Corps sharpened my sense of honor (if you don't already have it, not even the Marines can give it to you). Scout Sniper school taught me patience. Then, Ultrarunning taught me patience at a whole new level. From running, I have learned to take things one step at a time. As long as we can take one more step, we should. Anyone who's ever run a 100 miles (or even a marathon, really) knows that you can not be successful if you think about trying to get through the whole distance at once. You have to break things down into little bits. For me, when times get the hardest, just putting one foot in front of the other and not thinking beyond that is what works. And that is what I intend to do as Ginger and I write this new chapter. Just put one foot in front of the other. Have a plan for the whole journey. Have a plan for success in the long term. But, most importantly, execute that plan by focusing on one foot at a time.

Here's to the next step, my friends. Looking forward to settling into the new role and continuing to strive to succeed in all of my current ones.

See ya in the mountains. And soon Paul will be in tow learning to adventure. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Grindstone 100 2016 Race Report: Yes, Clark. Pain is, indeed, temporary.


I’ve spent the bulk of the past six months training specifically for Grindstone. This race came onto my radar when I the chance to pace Jordy for the final leg in 2014. I fell in love with the race immediately. It’s a tough, rugged mountain race that pushes people to the limit—and that’s what an ultra SHOULD do. It has a great energy and very welcoming atmosphere. Clark puts on a great race, and the volunteers are amazing. And the course. Man, the course is full of fun. Check out the elevation profile: 

I have been in no rush to do the race. I wanted to wait until I was sure I was ready to go have a good day and really test myself on the course. In 2015, I helped Jordy run the Reddish Knob aid station. Over the last couple of years, I've spent a lot of time doing long runs on the AT and improving my climbing skills. This year was the right time to step up from flatter 100 milers to a mountain 100.

Sean, Chris and I drove up to Swoope Friday morning, and I got checked in and ready to go. After the race meeting, I tried to get some rest before the start. A little before 6, we headed over to the start where I caught up with Ryan and Ben.

Ryan Nebel & Ben Wyrick

It was a little chilly and drizzling rain—basically what has become “Grindstone Weather”—as we stepped off on the Odyssey that is running a 100 miler.

Running with Ryan and Bryan Photo: Sean Raines

 The first few sections went about like I thought they would. I came through Falls Hallow, Dry Branch, and Dowell’s Draft close enough to my expected times that I felt like a good day was a real possibility. I left North River Gap (Mile 37) feeling strong. I popped in an earbud (just one because I always like to listen to the woods around me) and jammed out to music as I pushed my way up the big climb towards the Little Bald Knob aid station. Rage Against the Machine, Fife and the rest of the Tribe, Mandolin Orange, and John Prine (sorry Brett—no Beibs) kept me company and allowed my mind to drift as I tried to stay at my comfortable “all day” pace.

Things progressed about as expected (if only a little slow) until I started coming close to the Reddish Knob punch. The rain and fog were relentless. The course was a mix of standing water, mud, and slick rocks. Even though I had already changed socks twice (thanks Sean!), my feet were starting to have some trouble. I normally don’t have blister issues, so I wanted to be careful and keep it that way. I felt some hot spots on both of the balls of my feet. To stay on top of it, I sat on the muddy trailside and pulled my emergency socks out of my pack and changed them.

Muddy shoes were great for warding off sketchy people at the Econo Lodge after the race

During the race, the shoes were so caked in mud that I didn’t realize that they had holes in them.

Shredded Altra Olympus 2.0 

 Anyway, a quick sock change and I was off to the punch. Then, I rolled to Briery Branch Gap (Mile 51.56) to pick up Chris in 12:17-- about an hour before sunrise. Honestly, I felt great. I was running smart, taking care of my feet, eating, and saving energy. I was moving through aid stations quickly, which was a big focus.  I felt a little tired, but not bad at all. My legs felt strong and I thought, for sure, sub 24 was possible. The sun would be coming up soon and I knew I could make up some time once I was no longer running by headlamp in the fog and rain.

Chris and I started the hike back up from BBG. I wanted to let food settle while we climbed so we could run the ridge back to Little Bald Knob. We moved fairly well for a while, but then I started having some problems that were a bit more serious than just some sore feet. I had been drinking water like it was much warmer out than it was. I was cold, and I started having to go to the bathroom way too often. Clear and copious urine was not the welcome sign it normally is when you’re hydrated at a healthy level. Chris and I progressed to North River Gap (65.33) making OK time (16:13). Four hours was a good bit slower than I wanted for that section, but I knew that I just needed to wake up as the day went on, figure out the hydration thing, and I could pick up the pace again. Then, I started throwing up whenever I ate.

By the time we got to Lookout Mtn (71.68), I was feeling like I was in real trouble. It had been hours since I held any food down and I was feeling weak and shaky. Chris kept reminding me to get some salt on board. He was SO patient with me as I stopped what felt like every 5 minutes to puke or go to the bathroom. About a mile after leaving Lookout Mtn, I got worried. I thought I might need to go back to the AS and try to sort things out. I thought I might need to drop. But, Chris was with me and I knew all I need to do was keep moving to keep warm.

I needed to work the problem and find the solution. In the end that solution was slowing down, taking on salt, laying off the water for a while, and letting go of my time goals and ego.

That was hard.

I had trained so hard for this race. I wanted to have a good day in terms of placement and the clock. But, what I got was something way better: A chance to stare in the abyss, confront failure, and persevere. So, here is how that went down.

Chris helped me remember that I only needed to get to the next aid station. Everything could be re-assessed at Dowell’s Draft (Mile 80.35). At that point, I would only have 21 miles or so to go. And, I would have like 17 hours to do that distance. I decided I would just get to Dowell’s get out of the wet clothes, into a sleeping bag, warm up, and eat. Then, if I needed to nap, I would nap. But I wasn’t going to quit. There was no reason. I had Chris to ensure I was safe, an amazing crew (thanks again Sean, Pawel, and Rick) who would get me dried out, fed, and ready to go.  I knew that Pawel would do a great job of pacing me to the finish.

So, that’s what we did. At Dowell’s, Rick had laid out a tarp. 

Warm clothes and food make all the difference. 
Sean, Pawel, and Rick got me out of the wet clothes and into warm dry clothes. They fed me, pushed the warm coffee, and got me ready to get moving again. No nap needed. No one complained about being out in the rain for the last 20-plus hours. No one complained about how damn slow I was going. No one acted like I was doing anything but well. And, that made all of the difference. I can’t express my gratitude enough.

Once I was dried out and fed, Pawel and I took off towards Dry Branch Gap. 

Getting Pawel the vert I promised him

Up the climb we went. Jordy was right—the business on this course starts at the climb after Dowell's. Pawel told story after story and kept my mind off the weather (that damn rain!!!), the blisters, the shredded qauds, the chaffing (my kingdom for a zip log bag ha ha) and most importantly: The Clock. At Dry Branch, I got a great surprise when I saw that Ginger was there and Brett had driven up to see me too.

Ginger joins the crew in the rain (preggo & everything-- awesome!) 

I felt so lucky to have such great people supporting me that I no longer cared about the clock. I was just happy to be out in the mountains moving steadily and with a purpose towards the finish. And eventually we got there. 29 Hours and 56 minutes later. Almost a full work day longer than I had thought it would take. You would think I might be disappointed. I am not.

You're not a finisher until you hug the totem pole. 

This finish is my proudest moment in terms of running to date. And here is why:

1.     I have never had to look failure so squarely in the face before. I like running ultras because they allow us to test ourselves. We can learn so many lessons from doing things that might result in failure. I will cherish the lessons from Grindstone. The most important one was to really embrace the process and think less about the finish. I love being in the mountains with my friends, and when you get fixated on the finish line you miss out on some of the fun of exploring.

2.     Before the race, Jordy had told me that I needed to have the discipline to race from start to finish. He told me not to allow myself to be broken or become satisfied. Although I was unable to “race” from start to finish, I believe I heeded his advice. I was never satisfied. I never just phoned it in. I ran smart early and when things didn’t go my way I pushed as hard as I could just to finish. That doesn’t mean I went fast. But I never let myself just slog or give up. I moved with a purpose—even when I didn’t want to.

3.     I Chose Joy. That idea has been a mantra in our group since Brett or Jordy (I can’t remember who) came across it in a race report a while back. Ginger gave me a card on Friday that she colored that said: Choose Joy.  When I was tired and feeling bummed, that card reminded me that I’m lucky to be able to do these things and I should choose to enjoy it. I was able to do that, and that made all the difference.

4.     Having such an amazing crew of people around me made me feel like I must be doing something right in life. I’m lucky that people will be that generous with their time, and I’m proud to have these friends in my life.

5.     I finished Grindstone, DOOD!!! Seriously, a whole year of working towards something, and I got it done!

This has been a long one, so I’ll close by saying a big THANK YOU to Sean for being an amazing crew chief. I can’t wait to return the favor.

If you ever need a crew chief, Sean is your man. He is on top of it!  (Well, he DID wear jeans to Grindstone, but he's one top of taking care of other people)

Thanks to Chris for being a steady, calming presence. I always enjoy our time together on the trail. I’m also looking forward to returning the favor.

Chris Larson is an amazing pacer. Steady, calm, and always upbeat. 

Thank you, Pawel for being patient and encouraging along the way. You’re a great pacer, training partner, and friend. Can’t wait to help you knock out your first hundy too.

Feed this guy vert and he will go anywhere 

Rick: you were such a huge help! Thanks for coming out and supporting me! 

Ginger: thank you for letting me be me and for supporting me as I train and chase windmills with our crazy friends. 

Bryan Jennings: YOU ARE A BEAST! Congrats on your first 100. This was a doozie!! I'm so glad to have re-connected with you and Peggy. It was great seeing you guys. 

Ryan Nebel: Congrats on another solid finish. You're an inspiration, man. Great dad and still running strong!

Ben: I'm glad we got to spend some time together in the mountains. Looking forward to the next one.

Brett and Jordy: thanks for being the best training partners, mentors, and friends I could ask for.

I wouldn’t have made it to the finish without ALL of you.